Tag Archives: The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales

Treasuries to Treasure

I kept a selection of books from my childhood, mostly novels from when I was 12+ and no picture books. But the books I do still have from when I was younger are all treasuries. Lovely chunky hardback collections that people generally only buy as presents, especially at Christmas. Here are a selection of newly published, delicious additions to any bookshelves, all of which would make perfect gifts.

Just So Stories: Rudyard Kipling & Robert Ingpen (Templar Publishing, 2013)Just So Stories: Rudyard Kipling & Robert Ingpen (Templar Publishing, 2013)
Long ago, before your parents’ parents were born, O Best Beloved, there was a man who told stories about how things came to be… I would love to write this review in the style of Just So stories but using O Best Beloved is about as good as it gets. Kipling was a genius, there is no doubt. I’m embarrassed to say I have barely read any of his original work (I assume The Jungle Book doesn’t really have singing monkeys in it…) but I did grow up on a sprinkling of Just So Stories and therefore have a soft spot for them, though there are many in this book that I never knew, or don’t remember. But why buy a book when you can get them for free online, you might ask? And there are so many versions, why this one? Because Robert Ingpen’s illustrations are just so ūüôā This is a truly beautiful book, packed full of colour illustrations throughout, with many double-page illustrations, and coloured pages.¬† It uses the original text, which may lead to conversations about historical changes. I personally love the part where a father is furious with his daughter and is contemplating whether skinning her or not giving her a kiss at bedtime is the worst punishment – this is a book for all ages! This version is beautifully produced, and a nice size for reading too. I’m hugging it a bit as I write this (in between reading a bit more, and gazing and the illustrations.) The RRP is ¬£16.99, which is a bargain for what you get, and I’d not be at all surprised to see this on the Greenaway long list next year.

The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)
This is a beautiful collection of traditional tales involving birds in some way. The stories are perfect for reading aloud but even fairly early readers can attempt the easily laid out text (although the words may be challenging.) This is the first in a series of tales collected by the enormously talented Jane Ray and illustrated using scraperfoil techniques. The book has been formatted beautifully, and includes many coloured pages for interest. The stories are suitable for all ages, and include tales that have both sad and happy endings. It is a gorgeous book for any book lover, young or old, and a bargain at RRP £12.99.

Little Grey Rabbit's Story Treasury: Alison Uttley & Margaret Tempest (Templar Publishing, new ed. 2013)Little Grey Rabbit’s Story Treasury: Alison Uttley & Margaret Tempest (Templar Publishing, new ed. 2013)
Little Grey Rabbit books are ones I remember from my childhood and it’s lovely to see them all being reprinted in their original little book form by Templar. Because of course, they should be little books, unless they’re in a treasury. This book collects six of the tales together and includes information about the editor, author and illustrator, as well as the characters. I never knew Alison Uttley was one of the first women to gain a physics degree (in 1906), and that just makes me love the stories even more. These are delightful stories and, dare I say it, much more readable than many of Beatrix Potter’s tales. This is a beautiful gift edition that should delight any age. RRP ¬£12.99.

The Orchard Book of Greek Myths: Geraldine McCaughrean & Emma Chichester Clark (Orchard Books, reissue 2013)The Orchard Book of Greek Myths: Geraldine McCaughrean & Emma Chichester Clark (Orchard Books, new ed. 2013)
I always loved Greek and Roman Myths when I was a child, and as this is the 21st anniversary edition I wondered why I never had this one. Then I remembered I was 17 twenty-one years ago, in the midst of A-Levels and was mostly reading Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. If it had been around as a child, I’m sure I would have loved this book. Containing sixteen famous tales from Pandora to Persephone, Orpheus to Odysseus, this is a beautiful introduction to stories that have been told for thousands of years. RRP ¬£12.99.

The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems: Carol Ann Duffy & Jackie Morris (Barefoot Books, 2006)The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems: Carol Ann Duffy & Jackie Morris (Barefoot Books, 2006)
Introduced by Carol Ann Duffy and stunningly illustrated by Jackie Morris, this is a beautiful collection of many favourite poems to share with children, including selections from Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter De La Mare, A A Milne, Eleanor Farjeon, Elizabeth Browning, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Kipling, Shakespeare, Auden… I never studied literature beyond GCSE and I recognise almost every name, and almost every poem. These truly are classics. Accessible, enjoyable, and a beautiful addition to any bookshelf. RRP ¬£14.99, but get 20% off with code TWENTY13 if you buy online (or look at these blogs for 25% off for a limited time.)

Old Bear Stories: Jane Hissey (Scribblers, updated ed. 2013)Old Bear Stories: Jane Hissey (Scribblers, updated ed. 2013)
Even though the original Old Bear stories were wonderful in their original format, Jane Hissey reworked them all this year to reduce the text, making them even more readable, and on a par with modern picture books. The reissued books seem even clearer and more beautiful that before (we have a mixture of old and new versions!) Old Bear Stories collects five favourites: Old Bear, Little Bear’s Trousers, Little Bear Lost, Jolly Tall, and Jolly Snow into one glorious hardback edition. Having had the delight of meeting Jane earlier this year, I am even more in love with these stories. Every picture is based on real-life models that Jane created, and the detail in the pencil pictures is breathtaking. Perfect for very small children and up, this is a very special book. RRP ¬£16.99.

The Orchard Book of Funny Fairy Tales: Laurence Anholt & Arthur Robins (Orchard Books, 2013)The Orchard Book of Funny Fairy Tales: Laurence Anholt & Arthur Robins (Orchard Books, 2013)
A collection of six classic fairy-tales retold with lots of fun, lots of rhymes, silly pictures, and without any of the scary bits. Laurence Anholt and Arthur Robins also collaborate on a series of seriously silly stories for younger readers and this is a great addition to silly fun for threes and up. This would be a brilliant addition to any Christmas stocking, but you’d better be ready to read them all day as they’ll be a hit. Stinky stepsisters, gentle giants, hairy bears, and did you ever wonder what a house made of sweets would do to a witch’s teeth? Once you see the answer, you’ll be brushing your teeth very carefully! RRP ¬£12.99.

My Rainbow Fairies Collection: Daisy Meadows & Georgie Ripper (Orchard Books, reissue 2013)My Rainbow Fairies Collection: Daisy Meadows & Georgie Ripper (Orchard Books, reissue 2013)
Regardless of what you think of Rainbow Fairies, there is a certain demographic (of which my eldest child is a part of) who think they are wonderful. This book contains the original seven rainbow fairy stories plus one special, Flora the Fancy Dress Fairy. The stories are about two girls who are independent and brave, and their adventures helping the fairies of fairyland. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and (in this collection at least) doesn’t depict limiting gender stereotyping. Any series with over 100 titles will suffer quality issues over time, but these are the originals and are quite captivating. The best thing about this collection is that it is illustrated in colour. Mighty-Girl is a very good reader, but she doesn’t stick with books that she is capable of reading because she doesn’t like books without colour pictures. She is a very creative and visual child, so pictures are important to her. With this collection, she is flying through the stories, which can only be good for her literacy levels. The book itself has a padded cover, is covered in sparkling stars and butterflies, and includes a ribbon bookmark. Every page is in colour, and there are added character profiles, a map, and a pictorial list of all (so far) 169 books! A delightful gift for RRP ¬£12.99.

Disclosure: All except The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and Old Bear Stories were received from their respective publishers for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post. Barefoot Books links are affiliate links.

Fables and Reflections: 10 Traditional Tales Retold

After talking about retelling fables, I’d like to share a very small selection of some of the traditional and modern versions we have on our bookshelves. Many of these are recently published, but I’ve added a few extra that I haven’t reviewed yet. You can find more I’ve already reviewed by clicking here for the Fables tag.

The Emperor's Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)The Emperor’s Nightingale and Other Feathery Tales (The Story Collector 1): Jane Ray (Boxer Books, 2013)
If you’ve any interest in children’s literature, just put this on top of your Christmas list straight away. Or treat yourself now. Or use the children as an excuse. This will make a lovely gift for any child person. The stories are perfect for reading aloud but even fairly early reader’s can attempt the easily laid out text (although the words may be challenging.) This is the first in a series of tales collected by the enormously talented Jane Ray and illustrated using scraperfoil techniques. It is a gorgeous book and only priced at ¬£12.99. A mix of retold stories and collected poetry, this book deserves its own blog post. It is an example of traditional done well, with stories suitable for all ages. All the tales in this collection are linked by feathered friends and include traditional tales from across the globe. (Source: review copy)

whatsthetimemrwolfWhat’s the Time, Mr Wolf?: Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2012)
Technically not a retelling at all, but packed full of familiar characters following Mr Wolf’s day. Most children are familiar with the “What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?” game and the repeatedly asked question leads us through the day from 7am when Mr Wolf is woken by four and twenty blackbirds (“It’s time for blackbird pie,”) and sleepily wakes up and gets chores done in time for… Ah, that would be telling. Featuring three little pig neighbours (who slam their doors – “It’s time for bacon sandwiches,” (I feel like that most mornings when woken too early, and thankfully this Mr Wolf is a nice wolf when he isn’t being annoyed by naughty neighbours!) Gorgeously illustrated with Debi Gliori’s recognisable style, a humourous and happy story for toddlers and up. I’ve lost count how many times we’ve read it. What’s the time, Mr Wolf? Time to buy more books… (Source: review copy)

Beauty and the Beast: Ursula Jones & Sarah Gibb (Orchard Books, 2013)Beauty and the Beast: Ursula Jones & Sarah Gibb (Orchard Books, 2013)
The illustrations for this traditional retelling of Beauty and the Beast are exquisite. A mix of silhouettes and washes of colour, with gold foiled cover, this is a book to be cherished for its beauty and every detailed poured over. DG (4) certainly thinks so and requests the story night after night, and it’s a wordy book but she listens raptly all the way through and asks again (tomorrow, it’s a bit too long to read twice in a row…) I have some issues with the retelling. It is traditional, and there is a lot of focus on the sisters only being interested in gaining husbands, and new dresses every day being a highlight of Beauty’s stay in the Beast’s house. Beauty is also frequently described as stupid. It is, however, the most complete picture book retelling I’ve read. This Beast is not a Disney-fied softy but there is real horror in his appearance and the “ear-crunching noise” that accompanies his arrival. This really is a stunning, traditional retelling and deserves its place on any child’s bookshelves. (Source: review copy)

Goldilocks and Just the One Bear: Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow, 2012)Goldilocks and Just the One Bear: Leigh Hodgkinson (Nosy Crow, 2012)
Another modern tale and not quite a retelling of Goldilocks but to say much more would give too much away. “Once upon a time, there was this bear…” and so begins a story¬† of a bear finding himself in a big city and accidentally entering an apartment. There he tries to find some porridge, but the soggy, crunchy and dry “porridge” that he finds aren’t quite right (hilariously illustrated, you just have to get this book to see!) The same happens with the chairs, and the beds… The Daddy, Mummy and little persons who come across the mess left by the bear aren’t very amused, but the wonderfully satisfactory conclusion perfectly ends this familiar-sounding tale. Funny, stunningly illustrated, and a perfect addition to any bookshelf, I can’t recommend Goldilocks and Just the One Bear highly enough. (Source: own copy)

The Girl With A Brave Heart, A Tale From Tehran: Rita Jahanforuz & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013) The Girl With A Brave Heart, A Tale From Tehran: Rita Jahanforuz & Vali Mintzi (Barefoot Books, 2013)
This is a traditional tale that I had no previous knowledge of. It starts in a Cinderalla-like way; Shiraz’s mother dies young and her father remarries but after he too dies, her life changes from one of happiness to drudgery as the step-mother and step-sister make her their maid. Unlike Cinderella, no prince is required for a happy ending. Shiraz loses a ball of wall off her balcony, precious to her because it was her mother’s, and goes to the house whose garden it dropped in. The lady living here appears to be an unkindly witch and sets three tasks, which Shiraz gladly completes. Because of Shiraz’s kind heart, and the good that she does, it appears that the old women gives her the gift of beauty. In reality it is Shiraz’s own personality shining through. The step-sister attempts to replicate what Shiraz has done but it backfires because of her selfishness. Beautifully illustrated and with an exotic (to my children) location, this story especially grips MG (6) who listens attentively (she usually wanders off during stories to do other things) and tries to read it herself after. A very positive and non-stereotyped story, this is the perfect antidote to Disney princesses. (Source: review copy)

Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, 2013)Little Red Riding Hood: Alison Jay (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This is another huge success in our household, and has torn pages to show for how much its been read (sniffles!) Here we find Fairytale Village, where all the fairy tale characters live. Little Red Riding Hood’s mother runs the tea shop and sends our heroine with some treats to see her grandmother. But, oh, the illustrations! They tell the story and more. Starting in the tea shop, there’s Hansel buying a loaf of bread, the Frog Prince gloomily drinking a cup of tea, Rapunzel and the Gingerbread man chatting, Three Little Pigs munching cakes, and who’s that shifty looking character in dark glasses and a trenchcoat pretending to choose jam? MG (6) was the one who pointed out to me that the wolf appears on every single double page of the book, if you look carefully, and she’s right. The backgrounds of the illustrations tell too many stories to mention: Jack taking his cow to market, Hansel and Gretel going for a walk… The Hansel and Gretel tale plays out throughout the entire book, and we regularly see the woodcutter keeping an eye on Little Red Riding Hood too. Which brings me to my only grumble with the story. Despite the mostly modern retelling (the wolf locks grandma in a cupboard instead of eating her, and is sent to a school for naughty fairytale creatures at the end), this retelling doesn’t take the opportunity for Little Red Riding Hood to be resourceful and work her own escape, she is a passive traveller in the tale and the story just happens to her. I do wonder about Grandma too, she lives next door to the gingerbread house, didn’t she notice what was happening to the children there? Apparently I’m reading too much into this! The book really sucks you into the fairytale world and is wonderful for reading again and again. I do hope there will be more stories in this series and thoroughly recommend this version. (Source: review copy)

The Lion and the Mouse: Nahta Noj (Templar Publishing, 2013)The Lion and the Mouse: Nahta Noj & Jenny Broom (Templar Publishing, 2013)
This is a very clever book. Cut-outs in the pages mean that what you think is part of a butterfly’s wing on one page, becomes a lion’s eye on the next; plants on one page become footprints on the next… The art style is simple enough to encourage small children to try making animals with paper collage, and complex enough to hold interest throughout. This is a beautifully illustrated and designed book and for that I think the designer, Jonathan Lambert, should be on the front cover too because he has done a superb job. This would make a lovely gift for toddlers and pre-schoolers (and grown ups…) and is full of educational potential as well as being a lovely read aloud. (Source: review copy)

Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story; Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale; and Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn retold by Lynn Roberts & illustrated by David Roberts (Pavillion Children's Books, 2001, 2003 & 2005)Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story; Rapunzel: A Groovy Fairy Tale; and Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn retold by Lynn Roberts & illustrated by David Roberts (Pavillion Children’s Books, 2001, 2003 & 2005)
We love these books so much! David Roberts is one of the best illustrators working today and these three retellings of favourite fairy tales showcase his art beautifully. They are retold by his sister, Lynn, talent obviously running in the family. “In a time not too long ago and in a land much like our own, there lived…” begins each tale. Each has its own era. Cinderella is set in the Art Deco 1920’s/1930’s; Rapunzel in the 1970’s; and Little Red sometime in the 1700’s. They are all thoroughly hilarious with so much to look at in the illustrations that you could just spend hours pouring over them. They are a labour of love, and a must for any fan of fairy tales (or children’s books, or illustration, or humour…) Cinderella follows the most traditional route, with a prince and a ball along with step-mother and step-sisters. How Cinderella ends up with her step-mother is comic genius (a very absent-minded father is involved) and the attention to detail in the pictures is astonishing. We originally borrowed this one from the library but after keeping it for several months I had to buy it and the two others from the series. I am so sad there haven’t been any more since, it looks like plans for the fourth were postponed and I can but hope there are more one day as these are excellent. Rapunzel is set in the 1970’s with a dinner-lady aunt who keeps her long-haired niece on the top floor of a tower block before Roger from the school band finds her. No royalty or weddings in this tale which makes a lovely change, and oh, the ’70’s is so perfectly represented. The illustrator note in this book says he imagined Rapunzel being related to Cinderella somehow so look out in the background for items that appear in both books. Finally, Little Red is set further in the past and Red is gender-swapped to become a boy. I think there should be more gender-swapping in retold tales, it changes the stereotyped interactions into something more interesting in many cases. For instance Princess Rosamund in The Tough Princess finds a sleeping prince to wake. Just wonderful. Little Red does outwit the wolf on his own (now I wish he was female again, but only because of all the other female Reds who have to be saved) and how he gets grandma back after she was swallowed whole should delight almost every child. These three are a delight for children and adults. Humourous, intelligent, and great fun. (Source: own copies)

I would love to include more, because there are so many to write about, but I’m up to almost 2000 words already so this is finished but I’m sure I will write about more retold fables in future.

Disclaimer: We were sent copies of the books labelled review copy by Boxer Books, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Orchard Books, Barefoot Books (via BritMums Meet Up) and Templar Publishing for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.